John Piper at the 1999 Desiring God Conference for Pastors (Christian Biography)
you can listen to the sermon audio here. (Sermon length – one hour 23 minutes)
In 1672, about 50 miles northwest of London in Bedford, John Bunyan was released from twelve years of imprisonment. He was 44 years old. Just before his release (it seems) he updated his spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. He looked back over the hardships of the last 12 years and wrote about how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail. One of his comments gives me the title for this message about Bunyan’s life.
He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9 where Paul says, “We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead.” Then he says,
By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon every thing that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
The phrase that I have fastened on for the title and focus of this study of Bunyan is the phrase, “to live upon God that is invisible.” He discovered that if we are to suffer rightly we must die not only to sin, but to the innocent and precious things of this world including family and freedom. We must “live upon God that is invisible.” Everything else in the world we must count as dead to us and we to it. That was Bunyan’s passion from the time of his conversion as a young married man to the day of his death when he was 60 years old.
In all my reading of Bunyan, what has gripped me most is his suffering and how he responded to it. What it made of him. And what it might make of us. All of us come to our tasks with a history and many predispositions. I come to John Bunyan with a growing sense that suffering is a normal and useful and essential and God-ordained element in Christian life and ministry. Not only for the sake of weaning us off the world and teaching us to live on God, as 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, but also to make pastors more able to love the church (2 Tim. 2:10; Col. 1:24) and make missionaries more able to reach the nations (Matt. 10:16-28), so that so that they can learn to live on God and not the bread that perishes (John 6:27).